21 November 2006

2006: Day 5 – Morelia to Aguascalientes (14-Nov-06)

This beautiful morning in Morelia we had an 8 am start with Rene driving and me navigating. I was getting excited to get closer to Geezer and Rene’s hood. I’ve been to Aguascalientes before as it’s only 1-1/2 hours from Zacatecas and Geezer’s house. Rene and I had a busy morning with a 30 km transit to Mil Cumbres, then four speed stages in a row.


Morelia, from my hotel window

I was excited to be running the famous Mil Cumbres, but also a little subdued after hearing about the grave condition of the copilot of the Jag that crashed there yesterday. Also, at the starting line where Eduardo Leon normally pokes his head into our car and tells us good luck before waving the green flag, this morning he told us to please be very careful. We had heard from veteran drivers that Mil Cumbres is often foggy in the morning and the roads are damp. I talked to some other drivers who said if the conditions were anything less than perfect they were going to drive like grandmas and be very careful. It sounded like a good plan to me, but I still had fire in me that wanted to go fast.


Young fans !Viva Mexico!

Each morning when the navigator picks up the race card for the day, we also sometimes receive addenda to the route book. Each turn or direction has a reference number and depending on the weather, road conditions and construction, they give us updates. Today, for Mil Cumbres we were notified that an entire section of the road was washed out. We had heard it yesterday from the drivers who came through the opposite direction, but no one seemed to be able to pinpoint where it was on the route.

After about 30 min of climbing out of Morelia and into the mountains, we arrived at the lineup at Mil Cumbres. I snuck into the weeds to take a quick leak before suiting up and getting ready to race. The fog was settled about 50 feet above us in elevation and though the roads were dry where we were, we knew they could be damp and foggy up ahead.


The fog settling on the start of Mil Cumbres (1000 summits)

We checked in with the officials and proceeded to the starting line. Normally we sit and silence while they count down from 10, but this time one guy started counting and another guy frantically told us in Spanish about the washed out road. I didn’t catch all of it and was riffling through the route book pages and listening to Rene repeat what he said in Spanish. And then we were off!

Mil Cumbres was a trip. Rene and I talked about it later and neither one of us remembered the section of washed out road, though I want to say with a lot of vagueness that I think it was towards the beginning of the course. We ripped through the S-turns and hairpins like nothing else existed on the planet but our car. The roads were dry and Rene drove aggressively with perfect lines on the turns. We passed a Porsche and towards the end of the stage we passed a VW on the right. It was a kick! Before we knew it the 17 km were over and we were laughing and full of adrenaline.


The Mil Cumbres washout, in the direction Rene and I were driving. How did we miss seeing this???? Photo courtesy of Bret Haller, www.theunlimitedclass.com

After Mil Cumbres we went right into another lengthy speed stage of 18 km, one of the longest I had done. Folowing that we had two more shorter speed stages to take us down out of the mountains and back to Acambaro where we were yesterday. Finally, on Day 5 of the race, and after 4 speed stages in a row, I truly felt like I had mastered the race card and how to add up the times! It shouldn’t have been that difficult but it was. In Acambaro, where we had the service stop yesterday, we got gas and got on the tollway for a 237 km transit to the service stop.


Ralph Carungi in his Hot Rod Lincoln in Acambaro


Kristin and Conrad with the Porsche

Rene and I had driven the same route yesterday in the truck and it was fun to see the gorgeous scenery again without having to take pictures of everything. Rene had been teasing me because I take so many pictures, but when it’s all over, everyone is always glad I took so many.

We cruised through villages with cheering people and schoolchildren behind the school fence jumping up and down. They loved it when we honked and when they were on the side of the road close to us as we slowed down for the speed bumps, they always waved and shouted for tshirts or postcards or whatever else we might be giving away. In one village there was a small parade with men on horses carrying religious looking banners.


A parade in a tiny village

We weaved our way up the country roads, passing where we could and traveling through towns called Salvatierra, Celaya, Salamanca and Irapuato. I had fun practicing my Spanish and doing the navigation in Spanish when I could. Whenever I saw in the route book that there was a Federale checkpoint I would always tease Rene that I was excited for the inspection and would pretend to fix my hair and put on lipstick. But every time it was noted, there was never an inspection or even anything official looking on the road. This time there were a handful of young Federales standing around and so Rene stopped and waved them over and took a picture of me with the guys.


Federales!


"Every little thing....is gonna be alright!" -Bob Marley

We always pass race cars back and forth on the transits and it was good to see the little white Alfa Romeo from Ann Arbor, Michigan on the road again after they threw their bearings and wrecked their motor on the first day. They spent 30 hours rebuilding the motor in Mexico City and were back with smiles.


The Alfa Romeo from Michigan, back on the road!

In Silao we had a service break and Stewie and Geezer were there waiting for us. I was tired from the hectic morning filled with speed stages. I got a grilled ham and cheese sandwich at the Perkin’s type restaurant for Rene, who would be continuing on with Stewie navigating in the afternoon. Jorge Arroyo came by to visit and Geezer gave him a TBZ hat to show his colors. Geezer bought the car from Jorge about a year ago and Jorge still felt like it was his baby. He drives a topless LT now, but it is easy to see that he still loves the old Ford. He has run La Carrera 13 times, about 7 of those with the Ford. He said he’d email me the history of which years the Ford ran and how well it did.


This is what happens to my hair when Rene drives fast


Geezer and Jorge Arroyo, the previous owner of the Ford

We heard that the yellow Lincoln that crashed yesterday was getting fixed and going to be back on the road. No one seemed to know how the injured Jag copilot was doing and he was often on my mind. It seemed strange to be smiling so much and having so much fun while a 19 year old was fighting for his life. I think at this point there are something like 33 cars out of the race.

Geezer and I did the transit in the truck from Silao through Leon. We missed the turn south of Leon and ended up driving through the heart of the city, which took a long time but I was glad to see more of the country. We took the tolllway to Aguascalientes which the race cars took a different route with 2 speed stages on their way to Aguas.


The lake outside of Leon

Our arrival into the city was a little hectic as we arrived in rush hour and had to stop at AutoZone for some car parts. We ran into a fellow wearing La Carrera badges and he asked if he could follow us to the finish line as he was lost. Evidently he came to check out the route and plans to race his 1965 Corvette next year. He said he’d been lost most of the week and I could understand that considering the route books the service vehicles get are somewhat vague, and I hoped he’d do better navigating at the race next year. Geezer and I arrived downtown near the finish arch without a problem, until we hit the last turn coming out of a small side street. There were cars parked on both sides and the trailer didn’t fit. We were pointed downhill and after Geezer tried about 20 times to backup, with 5 different guys telling him which way to turn, we put the truck in park and everyone lifted the trailer off the hitch, then I drove the truck forward and they walked the trailer down the hill.

Finally we arrived at the finish arch and it was set up in a large party tent next to the hotel. Our finish lines are often in the town square or in the heart of the city and are most always congested and difficult to get around. It is really nice to have the space to park the truck and trailer and a little room to breathe for the race cars. The typically partying was going on and it is always a car show with lots of spectators and people asking for autographs – it’s always a lot of fun.


"Hanging" out with Ralf and Stefan from Sweden in the Falcon who were chasing the overall leaders of the race even though they are in a historic class


Rene with the yellow Lincoln driver and copilot, ready for the road again after the crash




The English journalist from Chrysler Magazine, tagging along for the fun


The German hotties in the pink Mustang Fastback


Rene and the Swede speed racers


Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) art in the hotel lobby

Next was a stop at the bar since there really wasn’t time for dinner. I hung out with Jorge and his copilot, Juan, who are both a lot of fun. I had learned that day that each time we checked into a hotel we got free drink coupons for being in La Carrera. Tonight we had vouchers for margaritas but I had already been drinking beer and the waiter said I couldn’t trade for a beer. Oh well!

That night the awards ceremony was held at a cockfighting ring near our hotel. After a lengthy promotional video for Aguascalientes which put almost all of us to sleep (but only because of our fatigue and sitting down and relaxing for the first time all day), they had a wonderful program of a laser light show, couples dancing in traditional dress, a mock fight between one man pretending to be a deer and one the hunter, and cholos (lariat roping guys). It was getting late, the program started late and we were all fatigued. There was a lot of confusion as to where the ceremony was going to be held as well, so I don’t think everyone made it. After the show we moved into another room where they awarded the trophies for the day.


Cholos

Rene was having a great time double-fisting margaritas and I had to decline another beer because once again I had eaten very little today. It makes for a quick buzz! Afterwards I told Rene I had to get some REAL food and we found a tiny taqueria and chowed down some tacos and we were happy. We sat with the guys from Michigan and they talked about blowing their bearings for the 2nd time. They believe they have an architecture problem with the car since the first time it happened was after about 300 miles, then they rebuilt and it happened again after 300 miles. They were bummed to be out of the race, but happy to be a part of it and planning already for next year. We were laughing and carrying one when one of the guys didn’t look so good. He seemed to have some gastric problems that came on suddenly and he looked really pale and sick. He got up to go to the restroom and after a few minutes I asked one of his buddies to check on him. Rene talked to the cook and we realized that they had all eaten the peppers, including the seeds. Rene gave the gringos from Michigan a big warning, the guy came back out of the bathroom looking a little better and we all had a good laugh, including the cook. We finished the night in the quiet hotel bar, having a beer again with Tony, the Mustang engine builder.


The guys in the Alfa from Michigan...check out the guy on the right just AFTER he ate the hot peppers

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